Swift: Saying goodbye to bad rummage (sales)

Although I've never given birth, I have heard of a phenomenon that often accompanies childbirth. Whether it's the feel-good hormone of oxytocin or a built-in selective amnesia, women supposedly take a look at that tiny, helpless bundle and forget...

Tammy Swift
Tammy Swift

Although I've never given birth, I have heard of a phenomenon that often accompanies childbirth.

Whether it's the feel-good hormone of oxytocin or a built-in selective amnesia, women supposedly take a look at that tiny, helpless bundle and forget all the pain that preceded his or her arrival.

I would say a similar phenomenon surrounds the garage sale. Except there is no glorious payoff like the successful incubation of a human life. Instead, you'll walk away with $135 (which boils down to about 11 cents an hour), a bad back and the trauma of strangers insulting your junk.

In a moment of insanity, I volunteered for this experience several weeks ago. After moving to a smaller place, my garage shelves were filled with clothes that no longer fit and items I no longer needed. My good friend also wanted to get rid of all the stuff in her garage, so she could actually park her car inside again.

Bad ideas need company, and this was no exception. We decided a garage sale was a grand idea. Wouldn't it be fun? We could visit and laugh as we set up all of our stuff. There would be the satisfaction of getting rid of unwanted clutter. And we could make it the Grand Empress of All Garage Sales - complete with fresh-squeezed lemonade and homemade cookies. (Surely, people would be buzzing about the greatness of our garage sale for weeks.)


It didn't quite work out that way. First off, my co-hostess turned out to be very busy - what with full-time work, and home obligations and school. As the hours slipped by, I was by myself sweeping the garage and setting up the tables.

We would have to scale back the splendor of our vision. Perhaps we did not need to be open Friday through Sunday. Saturday would be enough. Maybe we could not "stage" the furniture with fresh-cut flowers and placemats. Certainly we wouldn't have time to make lemonade; maybe customers could drink out of the hose.

I arranged and priced and rearranged until 12:30 a.m. the night before my sale. I posted "teaser" pictures on a Facebook garage sale site and hand-lettered traffic-stopping signs.

My previous garage-sale experience had taught me that the serious thrifters would show up a half-hour before the sale started. Back then, they all but clawed at the door like bargain-hunting zombies.

And so we threw open the garage door that day, ready to face Black Friday-worthy crowds.

Nothing. A tumbleweed blew across the driveway. A cricket mocked us. The garage was like a Katherine Heigl appreciation party.

Several women finally wandered through. They complimented everything and bought nothing.

In time, people did show up. They even bought things. One man offered to pay me $5 over the asking price for a desk. No one seemed inconvenienced by the lack of lemonade.


And then She came.

She was well-dressed and pushy, and she swept through the place like a practiced pro. Before long, her arms brimmed with sweaters and knick-knacks and shoes and dishes.

But she wasn't going to make this easy. "How much for this?" she barked, holding up a purse as if it were infested with head lice. I knocked a few dollars off, but it wasn't enough. "What kind of deal will you give me?" she asked. "I see you're selling shower curtain rings. Do you have the curtain? And what about the tub?"

On and on and on it went. I grew increasingly more confused as she whisked back and forth, bringing items up and then putting them back. She seemed intent on keeping me off-balance as she barked and cajoled and demanded.

I always gave her a discount, but she was never satisfied. She would shake her head angrily, and continue repeating the same phrase: "What kind of deal?"

Normally, I'm a fairly passive person. Normally, I would have sold everything for less than it was worth - all in the interest of being a nice Midwestern girl who kept the peace. Later, I would have stewed silently that I had been such a pushover.

But not this time. Something sparked and roiled deep inside me. Some kind of Monster. I've released this hissing, snarling imp just a few times in my life - and only when someone had pushed me miles beyond my breaking point.

I was tired of trying to reason with her. I was tired of trying to justify asking $15 for $60 Steve Madden shoes that were three months old and only worn twice.


My vision narrowed to tiny red tunnels and my height grew at least 7 inches. "I tell you what," I said, snatching a dried-flower arrangement out of her hands. "I don't want to sell you anything. I am confident someone else will pay full price for this, and I don't want to argue with you about it. This is my personal property. Now leave!"

Aghast, the woman stared at me. She tried to argue, but she was no longer in the dominant position. I refused to bargain. The sale was over. And with that, I turned on my heel, marched out of my own garage and slammed the door with a delicious, frame-shaking thud.

Later, after my blood pressure was no longer 330 over 140, my friend looked at me with wonder. "I have never seen you like that before," she said. "That ... was ... AWESOME!"

And then she smiled. "Of course, I wish you hadn't left me in the garage with her afterward. That was a little awkward."

We laughed. But in that moment, I knew I would never hold a garage sale again. I would never allow myself to be pushed around in my own home. I would haul my stuff to the thrift store - and take the deduction.

Just call me the Tammanian Devil.

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at

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